Friday, December 3, 2010

Chambal Wildlife Sanctuary Under Threat of Poaching

The Indian gavial

The Chambal is one of the best-known tributaries of the mighty Ganges River in northern India. With an abundance of aquatic wildlife making its home in the region, a wildlife sanctuary was established back in 1979 in Etawah district. It became known as the National Chambal Sanctuary, and it housed some of India's most magnificent and mysterious inhabitants; some seen nowhere else, but in India alone. In addition to aquatic animals, the sanctuary even boasts with a wide variety of terrestrial species. These include smooth-coated otters, chinkara (Indian gazelles), sambar deer, nilgai, spotted deer, wolves, hyenas, wild boar, fishing cats, monkeys, marsh crocodiles, pythons, and various species of turtles. Bird life includes the brown hawk owl, booted eagle, black-bellied tern, black ibis, jungle babbler, and even the magnificent sarus crane. Winter visitors include the bar-headed goose and the white wagtail. With such rich variety of wildlife, the National Chambal Sanctuary seems like a perfect spot for eco-tourism.  However, the sanctuary in recent times has been suffering from rampant poaching of some of the most highly endangered species native to Chambal. They include the Ganges River dolphin and the Indian gavial (locally known as 'gharial'). The poachers, who had been plundering the sanctuary, come from two indigenous tribes: the Mallah and the Kanjar, who live in villages occupying the banks of other neighboring tributaries such as the Yamuna, Sindh, and Pahuj

Wildlife experts say that the forest and wildlife department has not yet come up with any action to save any of the endangered species. According to Dr. Rajiv Chauhan, secretary of Society for Conservation of Nature, the government agencies should make better arrangements at the earliest time to ensure the safety of the local wildlife. He further stated that there has been no proper measurements adopted by the state government to save the river dolphin even after it was named the national aquatic animal of India early this year. Neeraj Kumar, the sanctuary's conservator of forest, stated that the dolphin is essential to the river's ecosystem. That is, if its number increases, it shows that the waters are not polluted. If the number decreases, it shows that the river is polluted. One report happened not long ago when a dolphin was found dead along the banks of Chambal. The forest department confirmed that the animal had died due to the heat. But even though the department began to probe the report as an incident, the final conclusion was reached without any proper investigation. Another inhabitant, the turtle, has also been the victim of poaching. Just recently, 37 kilograms of the reptiles' plasterol skin was seized by the district's police. In February this year, several raids had been conducted by the police which led to a recovery of nearly 2,000 turtles in the Kanjaranpurwa village.

The Chambal region had once been one of the most dangerous parts of northern India. It used to be terrorized by bandits known locally as dacoits. These marauders were notorious for robbing travelers passing through the region, whether it was by car or even by train. They were, in a sense, the Hindustani equivalent of the Wild West outlaws. They rode on horseback, carried guns, and were even romanticized in popular culture. A classic example was a Bollywood film titled Sholay, which was inspired by western classics such as Once Upon a Time in the West and The Magnificent Seven. But now, there is a new threat looming on the horizon: poaching. Many of these poachers come from local tribes, notably the Mallah and the Kanjar who live along the banks of the Chambal River. Interestingly, one of the most infamous dacoits was Phoolan Devi aka "The Bandit Queen" who had belonged to the Mallah tribe. The Kanjar had been known to be involved in other criminal activities such as kidnapping, theft, and prostitution. Most of the people from these tribes suffer poverty, and some have even turned to crime. I personally feel that these people are in a great need of help. And in addition to being provided with essential needs such as food, shelter, education, etc., they should be taught about the importance of the local wildlife in the region. That way, they will care about the animals living around them and pass down the concept to future generations. In the meantime, however, the region's forest department must take some serious action against these marauding criminals. The sanctuary is home to the river dolphin and the Indian gavial, which are couple examples of India's most highly endangered species that require strict protection and conservation. Furthermore, the National Chambal Sanctuary is home to other unique and interesting wildlife. The poachers will attempt to go after and kill other wild animals when given a chance.

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